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Web Letter

Years ago I viewed a documentary on the rise of the Religious Right in this country. They were taken lightly because of their extreme views. Their version of Christianity is that of dominionism (complete control), where biblical law supersedes the rule of law. Reclaim America for Christ! Now look at them, they have found their way into all positions of government, Senators, Congressmen--even the White House.

Maybe the Religious Right is good in a way; folks will open their eyes, realize their views are destructive and divisive and turn away. At the same time I worry the masses will fall victim to their twisted views of Christ and become like them, using the Bible as a weapon.

If the Religious Right continues unabated they will surely increase their numbers and rewrite the meaning of Christianity. Ignorance will prevail, gays will be persecuted, science and evolution will be subtracted to poppycock and of course, the wall of separation of Church and State will be torn down, as the Church becomes the government. Biblical Law will replace the Constitution and "this Crusade, this War on Terror" will spread in preparation for the mythical Second Coming. At the same time more progressive folks will walk away from Christianity altogether as Jesus evolves into a monster.

Will the real Christians please stand up?

Mark Picone

Hudson, OH

Jun 28 2007 - 9:13am

Web Letter

I want to respond to David Cartwright's assertion that "atheism really requires the most faith of any worldview."

Mr. Cartwright wrote that it takes a huge leap of faith to have "no real explanation of how the world got here, the 'source' of the Big Bang," and implies that it would be silly to believe that the universe has always been here. He seems to think that the introduction of a deity solves this riddle. But, it doesn't.

That the universe must have had a beginning, an appearance out of nothingness, is not the immediate certainty that this argument uses as a given. The question, "where does it all come from" is not answered by a deity, because it can be asked, "Where did God come from?" The assertion that God has always existed is even less rational than that the universe has. There is no evidence for the current or past existence of a deity, which is why it requires faith. However, there are physical laws (The Law of Conservation of Mass and The Law of Conservation of Energy) that show that mass and energy are neither created nor destroyed.

While Mr. Cartright asserts that atheists have "no real explanation of where life came from," he has no real explanation of where God came from.

While Mr. Cartright says that atheists have "a theory of evolution that is full of holes and has major problems with the scientific evidence and common sense," the Bible can't even agree with itself on how the world was created (the first two chapters of Genesis contradict each other).

How is a god necessary to recognize and appreciate beauty or to find meaning in life? In practice, how are an atheist's beliefs in a shared standard of acceptable behavior (social contract?) altogether divergent from his notion of an "objective moral standard"?

Mr. Cartwright's comments beg a lot of questions.

However, I don't consider theists as altogether irrational. There is a fundamental difference between knowledge and belief. It's silly for one to assert that they believe in things they know, such as "I believe I am sitting at my desk." Belief, even faith, falls into the jurisdiction of things currently unknown, or things that cannot be known. Some belief is an extension of rational processes, and some isn't--a distinction that can be made between two believers of the same thing. I have known Christians, for example, who have applied a lot of rational processes to come to their belief in God, and I have known idiots who simply and zealously drank the Kool-aid of their religion's dogma. The former is respectable, if flawed, and the latter would be laughable if the lot of them did not have such deleterious impact on the world we live in.

The theme of "The New Atheists" illustrated non-believers as an important constituency in national politics. Evangelical Christians have stood in the limelight, and have tried to force their faith on the country. I'd like to remind them of what Jesus said, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." A separation of church and state.

Douglas L. Haugen II

Seattle, WA

Jun 23 2007 - 8:56am

Web Letter

Aronson raises two issues for me. The first doesn’t need elaboration: The threat to democracy and human liberty from fundamentalism is sharp as a knife. The second is subtler: Absent the politics, who cares what your beliefs are, since it’s how you live them that matter.

There have been outstanding people of faith in the long struggles to make America live up to its professed ideals, but let’s admit that they’ve always been in the minority, as all our freedom fighters have been. The majority of the majority of believers, on the other hand, have peaceably co-existed with, if not actively supported, slavery, the robber barons and wars throughout our history. (Recall the Alabama bishops, reverends and a sole rabbi, who deplored Martin Luther King Jr.’s agitation as “unwise and untimely.”) And today they’re OK with the fact that the US is at the bottom of the pile of the major industrialized democracies when it comes to healthcare, infant mortality, literacy and wealth inequalities, to name just some of the shameful measures about how we treat each other. Many followers of the Prince of Peace also support the world’s largest military and the world’s biggest weapons supplier, for reasons that escape me.

So, is this gulf between proclamation and practice the opposite of that of masturbation, which very few will admit to but most surely partake of? The measure of a person, religious or not, is what you do, not what you say you do.

For me, I take the major tenet of the Judeo-Christian traditions to be a simple human teaching: Treat others as you would yourself be treated. The rest, as the good rabbi said, is commentary. I’ve a feeling he well knew how hard it is to just do this profoundly right thing.

Matthew Wills

Brooklyn, NY

Jun 19 2007 - 2:08pm

Web Letter

Aronson makes an important suggestion towards the end of the article: Nontheists who believe in separation of church and state can work with like-minded theists. That is exactly what is currently happening on Capitol Hill (and has been happening since 2005). The first Congressional lobbying organization explicitly representing the interests of the tens of millions of nontheists in the US, The Secular Coalition for America works with religious church/state separation organizations on a regular basis. We have also implemented Aronson's idea that such a group ought to "reorient American thinking about atheists and atheism." This is another area in which, especially in media outlets, the Secular Coalition for America has made great strides--informing the public that we, too are patriotic, ethical, and yes... moral.

Lori Lipman Brown

Washington, DC

Jun 14 2007 - 3:41pm

Web Letter

The previous letters demonstrate two things about devout (and defensive) believers: They mistakenly equate science and atheism and they truly don't understand scientific thought.

At a base level science relies on the demonstrable and inferable, so good science is indeed impersonal. I respect Mr. Riddington's opinion, but we can indeed wonder at the complexity of the universe without introducing fable as its source. I truly believe that the universe is impersonal, but that just reinforces how lucky I am to be here as an observer.

Mr. Cartwright confuses atheism with science; they are not the same, yet he fully misunderstands what science is and how it works. A difference between science and religion is that science fully admits what it doesn't know, so contrary to his assertion, no good scientist has faith in what he believes. The scientist not only accepts that his beliefs will be enhanced, or even supplanted, by future scientists, he hopes that this will indeed happen. Newton's world view is correct given certain constraints, but his work was expanded on (generalized actually) by Einstein. Science explains what is in its power to explain at the moment and hopes that future scientists will add to that knowledge base. You might even say that science evolves, unlike many religions that believe that all we need to know was determined 2,000 years ago.

Speaking of evolution, he also makes the mistake of mistaking evolution with a theory of evolution. Evolution is a demonstrable and observable phenomenon. There may be many theories of evolution, but the one referred to is Darwin's Natural Selection. Was Darwin 100 percent correct? Of course not--scientists are not arrogant enough to believe that they are omniscient. Yet Darwin's theory has been a remarkable starting point, given that the mechanism of evolution was unknown to him at the time (genetics). Unlike the absolutism of faith, scientific theories are expected to have "holes," which we hope will then be filled by future research.

Yes, science can admit that it doesn't know what happened before the Big Bang; it's even possible that we can't know because we are constrained by the physical laws of the universe we live in--which appears to be created by that event (the Big Bang). The scientific mind accepts this. It's OK! Can a scientist believe in God? Certainly, they are distinct systems of thought, but other aspects of religion may be impossible for the scientist to accept as literal truth. (Here is not the place to debate the usefulness of mythology--I refer you to Joseph Campbell.)

For me, it is the vast expanse of the universe, with billions of years and the infinity of mathematics, that explains our existence (this too is a theory). Given the enormity of the numbers involved, it is quite PROBABLE that life originated from random processes. That we are the beneficiaries of probability does not mean we must infer a designer, though the tendency to do so is understandable.

Saying that beauty, morals and purpose require religion just shows the conceit of the believer. It might surprise some that a-theist and a-moral are not synonyms. My moral system is based on two main principles: that to justify my freedom I must insist on freedom for everyone and that we should tread lightly on our planet, because this is the only heaven we, and our successors, have. Making the most of this existence--the only one that I know I have--is a purpose that I'm very content with.

Finally, to those whose quote scripture as an attempt to prove a point, you just did the opposite.

Mark S. Jacobs

Severna Park, MD

Jun 14 2007 - 11:07am

Web Letter

I continue to find it amazing when I hear atheists refer to those of us who are believers as "irrational." We are not irrational, we just have a different starting premise: God is. From there, a sound rational worldview is built. And, I think the evidence is much stronger for the "God is" starting premise than the opposite, but I digress....

What is really interesting to me is that atheism really requires the most faith of any worldview. Look at what you have to believe if you are an atheist:

No real explanation of how the world got here, the "source" of the Big Bang, or you must believe it has always existed.

No real explanation of where life came from.

A theory of evolution that is full of holes and has major problems with the scientific evidence and common sense.

And even if take all those huge leaps of faith, you are left with at least one further, huge leap of faith: Your worldview gives you no basis for purpose or meaning in life, the dignity of man, truth, objective moral standards, beauty etc., even though you know these things are important and "true." Despite the logical conclusions of your worldview, you can't live it out, and you take the leap of faith that all these things are true anyway.

This is rational? Sounds pathetic to me.

David Cartwright

Lake Zurich, IL

Jun 13 2007 - 10:19pm

Web Letter

To mount a political surge against the evils of religiosity, Ronald Aronson envisions a coalition of neo-atheist unbelievers and secularly theophobic believers. He wants to replace politicized theism with politicized atheism.

The mission is shaped by a fawning regard for "the courage and tenacity" of "deiciders" like Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett. And once again, we see a contra-theist wielding a weapon forged from "an unguided, unplanned process" capable of producing thirty-eight Nobel Laureates.

Aronson has alligned himself with believers who've used this scientism to reject a literal Genesis, and so, he writes off Intelligent Design as "a refurbished form of creationism." This is a standard, reflexive dismissal exposing its user (a) as insensible to his defective understanding of what he belittles (Uncommon Dissent, edited by IDist William Dembski, underlines the vacuity of the slur), and (b) as someone overpowered by faith in omniscient Time to generate specified complexity, that is, to make matter live and think.

If the New Atheist task force intends to explore the difference between belief and unbelief, it will discover a cage-match between extreme faiths--between the absolutely personal and the absolutely impersonal. The universe is either impersonal in its essential physicality, and we are finally and irrevocably reducible to electrochemical noise, or it is personal and we are the creation of a supernatural, transcendant Person--who knows us.

There is, of course, the evolvo-theist conjoinery of Teilhard de Chardin with its supernatural Autotransformation Executor giving the nod to whatever Nature might decide to do with matter; but this has proven to be an abusive marriage which ends with the evolvian partner using the "science" word to beat the theophile partner to death.

"Living without God means turning toward something," writes Aronson, and so he reaches for secular popular philosophy to "answer life's vital questions." However, that leaves his problem-solving coalition of natural selectees with nothing more than a survival postulate as they disengage from the virulent evils of faith and attend to the pesky dyfunction brought on by real psychopathy, depravity and suffering.

For example, the dogma-rejecting magician James Randi says his belief in "the basic goodness" of his species "appears to be a positive tactic and quality that leads to better chances of survival." But then he shifts from the sciencey tactical stuff into happy hominid gear: "I also believe in puppy-dogs and a child's sparkling eyes, in laughter and smiles, in sunflowers and butterflies."

And so, another of the intellectually fulfilled finds himself chugging from a jug of Old Mawkish. That's what happens when macho atheism comes home to an empty, silent house after a long day's work under a meaning that begins and ends in physics.

Randi's cheesy conflation of survival optimism and sensate sentimentality arises from the same mental compulsion that runs Richard Dawkins's nescient aversion to the palpably spectacular design of the undesigned. David Berlinski describes it in The Advent of the Algorithm:

Whatever we may say, we are stll ideologically the party of the physical sciences; like any ideological affiliation, ours involves commitments determining the evidence, rather than the reverse, and this by means of a psychological process as difficult to discern as it is to deny.

Aronson's league of ideological god-busters is united in its loathing for a universe which has Personhood written into every phenomenon displaying conceptual encodedness. As output from the fortuitous cunning of particles, these self-replicating fortuitrons will, naturally, despise any claim that the Person speaks to us, especially as the Word of Life who entered history, as a loving, saving Creator.

With what unspeakable indifference, then, will they receive the judgment which demolishes the cult of happenstance enshrined in their neural networks:

For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. [Romans 1:20]

Bruce Riddington

Victoria, British Columbia

Jun 13 2007 - 3:40pm

Web Letter

Aronson points out that regardless of religious belief or any other ideas, we still need meaning. Questions about meaning have been pretty back-burner for quite a while, as the atheist-religionist have been in battle.

Please check my website, in which I've taken up "The Meaningful Life" as well as references to some of my books which also consider meaning. "Nietzsche's Prophecy: the Crisis in Meaning" and "Teaching as Dialogue" which explores how teachers may attempt to inspire the futures of their students, and attempt to create a meaningful future for them. Again, thanks to Ronald Aronson who offers a critical view of the current polemics, but ways toward envisioning a meaningful future.

Harvey Sarles

Minneapolis, MN

Jun 12 2007 - 9:21pm

Web Letter

The problem is not faith or belief. Completely reasonable and intelligent folk can have a very deep faith and belief in God. Some of them actually read and enjoy and agree with The Nation and its views.

When writers like Aronson paint people of faith with a broad brush that places all of us in the role of potential theocrats, I cringe. Why must atheists stride to their pulpits and launch into the now familiar sermon bashing those of us deemed to be intellectually inferior because (gasp) we believe in God. They encourage their congregations to rise up and be counted. Throw off the shackles of persecution that turns the common atheist into a martyr for the cause. Yes, brothers and sisters, there is a new wave a comin' that will sweep the God-loving fanatics from these shores. We have heard the voice of the new prophets and they are rallying the believers in the nonexistence of God to march and take what is rightfully...

Blah, blah, blah...

This is just more divisive rhetoric. Atheists want strong separation of church and state. Guess what--many of us in the religious camp want that too. Many atheists want to restore the social contract between government and those in need of its help. There are religious folk that want that too.

Believers are not the enemy. We are not backward ignoramuses that want God to run the country. We don't all go to megachurches. Heck--we are not all Christian.

We are reasonable, rational, intelligent, caring folk that just want to live in peace with everyone regardless of the beliefs.

The problem is not faith--the problem is those folk that feel the need to force their beliefs (even atheism) on others.

David Fiorito

King of Prussia, PA

Jun 12 2007 - 11:07am

Web Letter

The idea that we non-believers need to replace god with something else is a curious argument. While The Nation has published more than one article recently that suggests this, it is not the only source of such a strange idea.

Perhaps the source of this idea is the name itself? I do not feel "without" anything, as the term a-theist would suggest. When asked in conversation if I am an a-theist, I have adopted the habit of asking to be called a post-theist. I'm over god.

Perhaps our theist friends should be called a-scientists?

David Kelly

Aberdeen, Scotland

Jun 12 2007 - 8:58am

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